Funding for Education Must be Targeted to be Effective
When discussing education reform, the conversation inevitably turns to funding.
The most common arguments involve spending more, usually via teacher salaries and per-pupil spending. The idea that by offering higher teacher starting salaries and incentives to long-term teachers we’ll attract and retain higher quality candidates makes sense. After all, it’s the same argument we make when discussing human capital in business - you get what you pay for. It also stands to reason that if we spend more on ensuring all kids, especially those who come from impoverished homes, are equipped with the books and supplies required, they will be more likely to succeed in their classes. These conclusions aren’t unfounded. Multiple studies cited in a December 2016 New York Times article show that increased spending can lead to not only a rise in academic achievement across the board but are also linked to lower dropout rates and higher salaries earned as adults when that spending is focused on schools with a high poverty rate among students.
But can money alone make a difference if we do not monitor and oversee how that money is spent? If a business is failing, and most agree that on a whole our public education system is eking along at best, spending more money on the same practices that got it there is hardly a sound plan. By that line of thinking, continuing to increase spending when we’re not seeing a correlation in student results is nothing more than throwing good money after bad. A May 2015 Guest Column in Forbes lays out the numbers, telling us that America “since 1966, per-student spending in constant dollars on public education has increased by 300%...[making it the] 5th highest among all countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)” while we continue to lag near or below the 20th ranking in math, reading and science. The same report explains that many of the countries in the OECD have impoverished students who consistently perform better than American students, arguing against the idea that concentrating our increased spending on low-income schools is the answer.
What both of these articles conclude, though they take different paths to the destination, is that increased funding itself is not a magic bullet. All money, new and old, must be targeted at what works, and what we know works is ensuring every student is taught by a team of high-quality educators. We know that the quality of the educators in the building is the single biggest factor in whether or not a student succeeds, and we know that only by recruiting, training and retaining more high-quality educators will all students achieve at higher levels..
Nevada has added money to the education budget the past two sessions with an eye to closing the gap between low-income and other students. Because of the newness of the recent reforms we have yet to see if this increased spending will bring about the promised changes, but we look forward to honest analysis and conversation on this point. In addition we need to explore whether spending more on instruction will make a difference. We believe it can if it is used to develop systemic supports for great teaching. Going forward we need to focus on spending and policies that will help students across the board by increasing the pool of talented teachers from which we draw and setting up systems that support them in guiding our students to success.